The guided-missile frigate USS Taylor (FFG 50) departs Naval Station Mayport for a seven-month deployment to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. T (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Marcus L. Stanley/Released)

In the next decade, U.S. ships and submarines capable of firing Tomahawk cruise missiles will likely be fitted with a variant specifically designed to hit enemy ships up to 1,000 miles away, according to a report published in the U.S. Naval Institute News.

Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources told USNI News Wednesday that surface ships would receive the upgraded missiles first, followed by submarines. The move follows the Navy’s upcoming $434 million budget request that would modify a portion of the current stock of Tomahawks with the ability to strike maritime targets.

[This U.S. missile is about to get a ship-killing upgrade]

Tomahawks, or TLAMs, were first introduced in the 1980s and an early variant was actually designed to strike enemy ships but was withdrawn from service because of issues with the missile’s accuracy. In 2015, however, the Navy demonstrated that current versions of the missile could be modified to accurately hit moving naval targets.

According to the Navy’s 2017 budget, the modified Tomahawks will start testing in 2021 before being distributed to surface ships such as guided missile destroyers and cruisers as well guided missile submarines.


The destroyer USS Mustin launched a Tomahawk missile Sept. 17 in the Pacific Ocean during a simulated strike that was part of Exercise Valiant Shield 2014. The United States launched Tomahawk missiles to target Islamic State militants in Syria, the Pentagon announced Monday night. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Declan Barnes/Released)

Mulloy’s comments come after Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter announced earlier this month that the SM-6 missile, a weapon designed specifically to intercept enemy warheads, would be upgraded to also attack enemy ships.

[These are the surface-to-air missiles China apparently just deployed into the South China Sea]

Both the news of the SM-6’s newfound abilities as well as the upcoming changes to the Tomahawk are in keeping with the Navy’s now year-old concept of “distributed lethality,” which basically entails making the Navy’s current vessels more lethal within the confines of a restrained budget environment.

The combination of the SM-6 and the modified Tomahawks would help give the Navy a leg-up on China, a country that is rapidly upgrading its naval capabilities.